WASHINGTON — President Obama delivered his support for one of the fashion industry’s top priorities in his last State of the Union address Tuesday night, as he called on Congress to pass the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal.
But retailers were disappointed the president did not emphasize the importance of tax reform in his speech.
In attendance was First lady Michelle Obama, who wore a Narciso Rodriguez marigold wool crepe dress. President Obama, who is seeking to shore up major legacy achievements in his last year in office, vowed to continue growing the economy, lifting the middle class and creating jobs.
“I will keep pushing for progress on the work that I believe still needs to be done-fixing a broken immigration system, protecting our kids from gun violence, equal pay for equal work, paid leave, raising the minimum wage — all these things still matter to hard- working families,” Obama said. “They are still the right thing to do and I won’t let up until they get done.”
The TPP is a cornerstone of Obama’s trade policy within his broader economic agenda, and one that he hopes will also be part of his legacy.
Trade ministers reached a deal in October on TPP, which includes the U.S., Australia, Japan, Mexico, Canada,Vietnam, Malaysia, Peru, Singapore, Chile, Brunei and New Zealand It aims to tear down barriers to trade and would encompass 40 percent of the world’s gross domestic product if enacted.
Obama said the U.S. forged the TPP “to open markets and protect workers and the environment and advance leadership in Asia.”
“It cuts 18,000 taxes on products made in America, which will then support more good jobs here in America, Obama said. “With TPP China does not set the rules in the region. We do. You want to show our strength in this new century? Approve this agreement. Give us the tools to enforce it. It’s the right thing to do.”
The we governments must all sign the deal, which is expected in early February, and then send it to their legislatures for approval.
Congress is expected to begin considering TPP and possibly vote on the trade deal this year but a difficult legislative fight is expected.
Industry officials were looking for Obama to touch on TPP, tax reform and cybersecurity issues in his major address to the nation.
“As the largest free-trade agreement in history, the TPP will open foreign markets for American businesses and save American families hundreds of millions of dollars on products they buy everyday,” said Hun Quach, vice president of international trade at the Retail Industry Leaders Association, before the speech.
She said RILA was eager to hear the president’s plan “plan to build support for TPP this evening, and RILA stands ready to work with the Administration and Congress to ratify this historic economic agreement.”
Stephen Lamar, executive vice president at the American Apparel & Footwear Association, said in comments before the speech that he too would be looking out for Obama’s comments on trade and the TPP in particular.
“TPP encompasses nearly 40 percent of the world’s economy and 800 million consumers, so it represents a huge opportunity for the industry and there’s widespread attention on this policy issue among our members,’ Lamar said.
“We’d like to see him signal that he’ll be working with Members of Congress to answer their questions and address outstanding issues.”
David French, senior vice president of government relations at the National Retail Federation said shortly after the speech that “6.9 million retail and restaurant jobs in the United States are supported by international trade.”
“NRF is pleased the President mentioned passing TPP in his address to Congress,” French said.
While Obama gave a nod to TPP, he did not mention tax reform — a key retail issue.
“We are disappointed the President failed to mention tax reform, which is key to solving the biggest crisis facing this country: persistent lack of economic growth,” French said.
French said tax reform could help create millions of jobs and noted that the failure to cut high corporate taxes has hurt consumer spending power.
“It was a missed opportunity by the President,” he declared.